“Very food-motivated,” that’s how a trainer described the coonhound breed of dogs a few weeks after my husband and I welcomed Chuck into our family last winter. We already knew that Chuck wanted a bite of just about everything, but we needed to identify those foods which he would acknowledge as major rewards for doing things he might not otherwise want to do, like going outside in the rain.
Peanut butter was helpful for giving Chuck medication capsules. The same with a couple spoonfuls of plain yogurt or cottage cheese, at least until Chuck started rejecting those treats with an unspoken “Not that again!” That’s when I discovered the trinity of produce for hounds: butternut squash, pumpkin, and watermelon. It’s easy to hide pills in pieces of watermelon and cooked squash or pumpkin cubes; and Chuck will be more persistent or patient or longsuffering (the rain burns, you know!) to get any of these treats.
Late summer has been a great time for all of us to enjoy these foods, and the season brings to mind a number of food memories, particularly when faced with a pile of watermelon rinds about once a week. The best way to use watermelon rinds, besides giving them to Chuck to keep him “regular,” is to make pickled watermelon rind, a condiment common in the southern U.S. and in many Asian cuisines. I have had them in Seoul, and the recipe below is my tweak of one brought back to the U.S. by my maternal grandmother after being stationed in Japan.
● 1 quart watermelon rind, cut into pieces about ½ inch by 2” and however deep the rind and ½ inch or so of red flesh (if you want) may be (about 2 pounds)
● ½ cup water
● 1 cup sugar
● 3+1/2 teaspoons kosher salt (table salt would require
● 1 cup rice wine vinegar or cider vinegar
● Finger of ginger 2 inches long, ½ inch wide, peeled and chopped rough, or ½ teaspoon powdered cinnamon (best with cider vinegar)
● 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1. Slice whole watermelon in half across its width (not end to end). Slice one half into rings 1.5 to 2 inches wide until 3-4 inches remain at the end. Wrap and save the other half unless part or all of it is needed.
2. Cut the flesh from each ring but cutting another circle just inside the red flesh. The red flesh can be reserved. The end pieces will need to be cut in half or quartered to remove the flesh easily with a similar cut.
3. Cut rind into 1/2-inch strips that are the width of each ring. Start by cutting each ring in quarters, then use a paring knife to remove the watermelon skin from the rind.. Cut peeled quarters into 1/2 inch pieces across the width of the ring. Continue peeling and cutting the rind until a bit over 1 quart of rind pieces have been created.
4. Combine vinegar, water, sugar, salt, peppercorns, and ginger or powdered cinnamon in a non-reactive saucepan large enough for these ingredients plus the watermelon pieces. Bring to boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt.
5. When the brine reaches a boil, add the watermelon rind and toss. Return to boil, then simmer for 1 minute, attempting to get all pieces in the brine.
6. Remove pan from heat. Toss rind again and cool for one hour.
7. Transfer watermelon rind to a 1-quart plastic container or a canning jar. Add as much of the vinegar mixture as will fit in the jar (it will be all or most of it). Refrigerate.
8. The refrigerated rind can be eaten in a couple hours, though I prefer to let is sit at least overnight (12 hours) before serving. The skin and flesh will have lost some color, but the pickled rind will have a refreshing flavor.